After having been swallowed by the beast and spending several years investigating how it works, I managed to slip out the backdoor and make good my escape.
This is what I learned, and for each of these lessons I was the idiotic guinea pig.
This may be applicable to doctorates in other fields as well, but I’ll stick to what I know.
If any of the following apply to you, think long and hard about what you are asking of yourself and whether it is worth it.
1. There is prestige with being labeled a Dr. Untrue. No one really gives a shit. You aren’t the useful type of Dr. anyway. The only people that care are your mom and other PhD’s. And most of them secretly hate you because you are competition. The rest of the world moves on without really giving a damn what breakthrough you came up with in advanced finite element modeling of crack propagation in ferrous materials. Prestige should be the last reason to inflict this sort of punishment on yourself.
2. You want to stay in the US/UK/Australia/Congo. Terrible reason. You’ll be abroad, yes, but that time will either be spent in a lab, on the way to a classroom, or studying. And when you aren’t doing these things you’ll likely be thinking about them.
3. You like your research topic. A PhD is not only the research of one topic for 5 years. There is a lot of ancillary stuff: classes to take, TAship/RAship work to do, random projects for the advisor, both technical and nontechnical, writing a dissertation, attending conferences, giving presentations, teaching teenagers. Your research topic will occupy about 30-50% of your total time. And there is always the very likely event that your topic will change anyway. Your main task is developing the tools for a career in academia, and there are many sides to that monster, all you which you should familiarize yourself with before deciding to jump in.
4. It doesn’t seem that difficult. Um, very untrue. A PhD may be one of the most difficult things you undertake apart from childbirth. Not only is it rigorous, but it is long. You have to keep yourself motivated for years and work harder than you’ve ever worked before. It is a serious commitment to a tedious fate. Like most arranged marriages.
5. I am confident I’ll achieve a good work-life balance. No you won’t. Remember making fun of those goofy professors back in college and wondering why they are so goofy? Because they are academics. They didn’t choose to be that way; it’s simply the nature of the beast. You will have no life. You will be trained until you live and breathe research and everything in the world exists merely to serve your brain. Your body will be a transport mechanism for your head to get it to classrooms and meetings, your house will become a protection box for your head, conversations will become food for your head – which is why you no will longer engage in talk of any kind unless its directly related to your field of research. For all external appearances you will become just another goofy professor, but you won’t care because you would have forgotten how to be anything else.
6. It is better than working in the field. Graduate school should never be used as an escape from the real world. If you are thinking this way, you are most likely in the wrong field to begin with.
7. It will make your parents/grandparents/spouse/lover/benefactor/dog/parrot happy. If anyone other than you wants a PhD, tell them to go get it for their fuckin’ selves.
8. It will advance your career. Mythical. A PhD often pigeonholes you into a few select positions and leaves you overqualified for the majority of others. That’s a risky proposition in this day and age. You will probably find a job at some Iqra University in Pakistan but hoping to get a top tier professional position just because you have a PhD is foolish. Also, you won’t earn more with a PhD.
9. You love to learn. You don’t need a PhD to be a student. I’m self taught in many things, and I daresay better at those than I ever was at engineering. You can learn just about anything with the internet and websites like Coursera. And Google. Capitalize on the insanely rich resources of the internet. That is, until it is labeled unislamic and banned outright.
10. It will make you a better person. True. But in a very specific, cerebral way. You can also become a better person by spending those 5-7 years doing anything else with the same passion, dedication, and rigor that the PhD asks of you.
Finally, there is only one reason to want to do a PhD. Because you fucking want one.